SAFETY, JUSTICE, & HEALING

It takes a village: Diocese opens its doors to mothers, families in need

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PROVIDENCE — An expectant mother needs medical care. A grandmother needs a crib to show social workers from the state that she is prepared to care for a newborn. Other caregivers may need clothing, diapers, an infant’s car seat, a week at a day camp for two youngsters to give an overwhelmed mother a chance to collect her thoughts.

The Diocese of Providence’s Office of Life and Family, led by Director Carol Owens, does all this — and much more — for women and their families during pregnancy and after a baby is born. “Pregnancies can sometimes present challenges for women and their families, particularly when they are unplanned,” says Owens, who has led the office for a dozen years. “We provide support and guidance for women and families during a challenging pregnancy and also after the baby is born.”

During her time at the Office of Life and Family, Owens has been instrumental in expanding services for women and families. Her office provides support during pregnancy and post-natal care until the child is 4 years old, while offering continuing education opportunities for mothers. The support for mothers and families from Owens and her team is wide-ranging and starts from the very beginning.

“We start a relationship with the people we serve by meeting them in person and building trust,” Owens said. “Sometimes we are their only friend so we look to learn as much about them as possible to best serve their needs.”

One program overseen by Owens and her staff is St. Gabriel’s Call, adapted from the national program called The Gabriel Project. They seek and train volunteers to work with women and families facing unplanned pregnancies, “delivering messages of hope to women in dark times,” Owen says. They provide not only physical supplies for the baby, but also emotional support to the mother. St. Gabriel’s Call has five locations throughout Rhode Island: the Diocese of Providence’s Chancery Office; the Scalabrini-Dukcevich Center in Providence; All Saints Church in Woonsocket; St. Mary of the Bay in Warren; and Jesus Savior Church in Newport.

Another program offered through the diocese is The Elizabeth Ministry, a woman-to-woman support network that connects and supports women during pregnancy, post-partum and beyond.

The Office of Life and Family also supports My Child…My Gift, a program which provides comprehensive and compassionate support for women experiencing a medical problem or an unborn child’s disability diagnosis.

What the Office of Life and Family’s website cannot capture, according to Owens, is how wide-ranging these services are. Owens noted how she has even delivered a crib last minute for a grandmother who needed proof of her ability to house a newborn baby, referred clients for jobs and provided scholarships at summer camps for youngsters in order to give moms much needed time to themselves. If you speak with Owens, these types of stories are seemingly endless.

To reach as many women as possible, Owens has met with telephone operators at the United Way’s 211, workers at the Department of Human Services, the Nurses’ Association and other social agencies in order to make people aware of the many programs offered through the Diocese.

Owens grew up in East Providence just around the corner from her local church. She credits her loving parents with helping her develop a passion for helping people and making a difference in their lives.

“If we can help one of ten women to change their situation for the better, then I consider that a success,” Owens said. “But we’re committed, and determined, to do even more.”

The Office of Life and Family provides support to over 1,800 women every year. 26 volunteers under Owens supervision work with clients to determine the best way to meet the mother’s needs. These volunteers are trained to meet a woman “wherever she is in life.”

To learn more about the services offered through the Office of Life and Family, visit their website or visit any of the St. Gabriel Call locations throughout Rhode Island.

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